Historic and once stately City Hall Park, now in disrepair, is an embarrassment. Some 60 years after the park's last spruce-up, the Giuliani administration has a bold plan to renovate it. It's a good idea-with one caveat.

The park's original design dates from the 1870s, but, over time, some of its most impressive architectural attractions wound up elsewhere, its original fountain, for example, now serving as a giant planter in the Bronx's Crotona Park. The park also became an architectural menagerie, with its three different styles of park bench and its ornate nineteenth-century lampposts oddly topped with 1950s light fixtures. The city's renovations replace this hodgepodge with a coherent nineteenth-century look. The original fountain will return, new benches, lampposts, and fencing will be period replicas, and the new main walkway will align the park's entrance gate pleasingly with City Hall's front doors.

There's one snag: the costly $28 million price tag. Spending on park renovations comes to about $15 million, while the rest pays for related projects, including $4 million to waterproof the subways below. One can think of worse ways to spend tax dollars, but surely private donors could have defrayed some of the cost.

If all goes well, City Hall Park should remind us that it was once unthinkable for a government building to have shabby surroundings. Though Mayor Giuliani, who urged the renovation in his second inaugural, won't get to enjoy the park from his office window once it's done, it will be part of his remarkable legacy.


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